For Mavae Ahio from Mangere, the University of Waikato was close to home but far enough away to ensure he became independent during his study years.
Mavae is graduating this month with a Bachelor of Arts majoring in anthropology.
“Growing up, I always wanted to be in the defence force, but slowly I became interested in people, cultures and society and so anthropology became my study choice.”
Mavae is of Tongan descent and comes from a large family. He says there was no pressure on him to attend university, but he was actively encouraged by his parents. “Their vision as migrants was so we could acquire better education, employment and opportunities."
But it took Mavae longer than he initially expected to complete his degree as he had to take an extended break in the middle of his study years to help support his family after his father became ill.
For three years he worked as a teacher aide at Mangere College, and then as a Tongan interpreter. Far from being resentful about taking an enforced study break, Mavae says he was happy to help his family out. “In my culture family is the foundation of a person’s journey in life. The stronger the foundation, the more stable life will be.”
When he did return to university, he says he slotted in again quite easily and was able to continue as a part-time interpreter. “I still had the drive and aspiration to complete. University was good for me. The whole experience of being a student and being able to challenge myself. You have to be self-disciplined and adaptable.”
Mavae now works as a cultural advisor and assessor with the Malaga a le Pasifika team at Waitemata District Health Board, providing cultural case-support for Pacific consumers and their families, working closely with other health providers.
He will have plenty of family to cheer for him at graduation in Hamilton on 11 December. But he says even though he now has a degree to his name he will not stop learning. “My ultimate career goal is to always improve in every aspect of my life whether it’s in family, community, work or society. This world has a lot to offer, so enhancing my skills, knowledge and practices will allow for amplification of my own personal development, and also help me to make life better for others.”
Mavae is one of more than 1300 University of Waikato students graduating at six ceremonies in Hamilton this week.